By Andre Dubus III
400 pp. W.W. Norton & Company, $15.95.
Acclaimed author Andre Dubus III (House Of Sand And Fog) takes us back with him on a journey through his childhood in the slums of Lynn, Massachusetts all the way up through his development as a young man and then through his battle with his own demons as an adult in this memoir.
Dubus provides at times an unflinching take on life in New England, sparing us the smarmy rough-and-tumble portrayal we’ve so often seen in film, and showing us a side of New England we don’t often see – poverty, abuse, and drug culture. The setting of Lynn, Massachusetts could be a stand-in for New York City in the 1970’s with its drug peddlers, rapists, and gang fights. Having grown up in another mill town myself (Lewiston, Maine) during the 1980’s, I can relate with some of the difficulties young Andre had during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Indeed, with such a strong start focusing on his adolescence, and with his reminiscences feeling so raw and close to his heart as a writer and as a person, it was a surprise to see him distance himself at later times throughout the book, and in effect – keeping us as readers an arm’s length away from his true emotions. This is an unfortunate side-effect with many writers as they pen their own memoirs, and while I wouldn’t say that the book is not worth reading because of it – you wonder how much more powerful and visceral the book may have been had he forced himself – and us by proxy – to walk through the flames of his psyche.
Dubus’ struggle with his desire to create destruction in the form of physical violence versus his struggle with his desire to create alternate worlds through his fiction as a writer is a nice touch to this otherwise by-the-book recantation of his life’s events. It’s a real interesting dichotomy to see played out within the pages, though – as I discussed above – these are the moments in which Dubus really seems to detach himself from who he is, which brings us outside when we’re supposed to be inside, feeling his every thought.
The pacing was mostly decent, with only a few muddled spots where it felt like he was lingering a bit on various topics, like his stint at various jobs which he didn’t go too far into detail with in the first place. But overall, Townie is a great look into the life of a talented writer, a through-and-through New Englander, and someone struggling with the effects of toxic masculinity. Despite its minor amount of flaws, I would definitely recommend Townie to anyone who loves a good memoir.